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David Simon's Genius Now Officially Certified

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A grant for a TV producer: genius or Looney Tunes?

Today the MacArthur Foundation announced its list of “geniuses” in the arts and sciences who will receive a no-strings grant of $500,000 each to pursue their work. Among them, David Simon, creator of The Wire and Treme, who in addition to the half-mil can now put “GENIUS” on his business cards, just like Wile E. Coyote.

Joking aside, if a novelist like David Foster Wallace can win a Genius grant, the creator of the greatest TV drama ever is easily deserving. But as a reader on Twitter fairly asked, since Simon is working for HBO, not scribbling in a garret, does he really need the money?

The first answer is, it doesn’t matter. Well, not directly. The foundation has recognized established artists before, and financial need is not among the criteria—not directly anyway. The grants are meant to recognize future potential and to enable further work (which, obviously, financial need can figure in to). If Simon doesn’t need the money itself, the recognition gives greater assurance—to the extent such a thing is possible—that Simon, not exactly a commercial powerhouse, will keep getting to put the kinds of shows he wants on TV. If you’re a prestige operation like HBO, are you going to go rejecting a genius? (And HBO thought giving him notes on scripts was impossible before.)

Of course, HBO was pretty clearly in the business of being Simon’s patron to begin with. But as he notes in an interview with the L.A. Times, it’s not as though making series for HBO is all he has to do in life. “I might want to pursue something that has minimal commercial value,” he suggests, if he doesn’t end up donating the money to charity. (“I’m obviously in an industry that pays well,” he notes.)

In other words, Simon may or may not need the money, but I’m confident enough he’ll figure out something to do with it.